French film maker Francois Ozon returns to a frequent theme of his in his heartbreakingly beautiful “Frantz”. The theme of identity is once again at the forefront here, as is living with guilt and the loss of innocence via devastating means. Set in Germany in the aftermath of World War I, Anna visits the grave of her fiance, Frantz, only to find a young man, a stranger, laying flowers below the headstone. The man looked devastated as he walked away, causing Anna to enquire about his identity and just how he knew Frantz. The man replies that his name is Adrien and that he is French, and was friends with Frantz from before the war. Adrien also asks Anna if she would be able to organise an audience with Frantz's parents too. They are initially cold to the idea due to the man being French, thus an “enemy” of Germany's from the war, but they slowly warm to it as Adrien tells stories to them of their fallen son, from the times they were together. This is a stunningly beautiful film, but it is as equally as haunting. It has been shot in luminous black and white, showing off the German countryside to great effect. During key scenes, usually involving memory, Ozon reverts to colour but not in a traditional or naturalistic way. It is almost like the black and white has been coloured giving it a light pastel, almost faded look. I do not know if I have described the look well at all there, but it is very effective and looks amazing. All of the performances here are very good, quite restrained and still. This is not a film of large gestures, it is a much more subtle affair. In saying that, I believe the use of mirrors to be obvious, but I also think Ozon has used the technique maturely and does not over do it. As good as everything is about “Frantz”, the greatest thing is the film's message which is that in war, it is good to remember that there is no such thing as “good” guys and “bad” guys, only soldiers, that is young men, following the orders of their individual countries. While I guess you could say that this is another take on the age old adage “the first victim of war is innocence”, “Frantz” goes that extra step further to add that the way to healing after war is to learn to love one's enemy. I love this film and it may just be Francois Ozon's best yet.
9. I, TONYA
The three big crime stories I followed whilst growing up on the 90's were the O.J Simpson case, JonBenet Ramsey's murder and the story that is the basis for this movie; the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan ice-skating drama. It seemed like madness at the time that the world of competitive ice-skating would have such an extreme crime within it and thankfully director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers have channelled this madness in their excellent black comedy “I, Tonya”. They noticed after interviewing the key figures of this crime that all of their stories contradicted one another, and so instead of choosing one of these “truths” to base the story on, they decided to embrace the contradictions and thus that is how the movie became what it is today. The fact that they also decided that the only way the film would work was to make it a comedy, was genius, and I actually found the whole thing hilarious but in a dark way. Choosing the very glamorous Margot Robbie to play Tonya Harding, the pin up girl for this white trash crime, could have come off as a little risky but it was an inspired decision because she is magnificent in the role (although I do question their decision to also have Robbie play the fifteen year old version of Harding, because this just never works). Robbie pulls off the right amount of sass and trash for this U.S skater who had a massive chip on her shoulder. As good as Robbie is though, this is Allison Janney's film as she totally transforms herself into the worlds worst mum (maybe ever). She is totally horrible and does not have a maternal bone in her body, but I loved every second she was on screen. In fact, this film was a bit of an eye opener, and I actually felt sorry for what Tonya went through to get where she did. While I am not 100% convinced that she knew nothing about what happened beforehand, I do not think she deserved the moniker of “America's Most Hated Person” that she seemed to be branded with briefly, after the fact. It is true to conclude that Tonya too was a victim in all of this, but an innocent victim, I'm still not sure. Black comedies can be very hard to pull off because getting the tone right is so important, but “I, Tonya” does a fantastic job of it, and the decision to break the forth wall and have characters talking to the audience was brave, but masterful. Finally, if you think that the mother is too over the top in the film, and that the criminals dumbness was heightened for the film, stick around for the credits to watch the real people being interviewed. It will blow your mind.
8. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
In terms of black comedy, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” makes “I, Tonya” look like a goofy Jim Carrey movie. This is the blackest of black comedies to the point that I have also seen the film described regularly as a horror film. I guess this is also an apt description due to the disturbing nature of the storyline and where it all goes, but for me, this was comedy through and through. I laughed so much through this film...........so I do not know what that really says about me. This is the second collaboration between Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman to make it onto this list, but while Kidman got the chocolates in “The Beguiled”, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is all about Farrell who is absolutely brilliant in the film. Farrell has the advantage in that he worked on Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos's previous film “The Lobster” so has an understanding of how to use the odd stilted dialogue delivery that the director demands to his advantage. I do like Kidman in the role, but she gives off a sleight vibe that it is a little uncomfortable, whereas right from the opening scene it looks like Farrell has just gone straight back into the world of “The Lobster” and seems totally at ease. I am not going to go into any details about the film because it is one that is best going in knowing nothing and experiencing it as the characters do. I will say that it actually took me two viewings of the film for me to fall in love with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”. My initial screening took place at MIFF, and while I liked the film, I did not love it and had serious issues with the performance from Barry Keoghan who plays Martin, a key role in the film. For me, it just did not live up to the brilliance of “The Lobster” and yet it never left me. I kept thinking about it, and I watched the trailer for it a lot. When it finally hit VOD back in December, I watched it again, and loved every second of it. (Actually while I still do not love Keoghan's performance, I have come to terms with it, and don't let it ruin the film for me). I laughed so hard (and out loud) during it, and found the whole thing incredibly funny. My favourite moments are the two tantrums Colin Farrell's character has while stressed. Being as I am also a fan of cinema that goes to the dark side, I was very impressed (and disturbed) by the film's horrific ending, which is very often compared to the work of Michael Haneke, particularly “Funny Games”. At the end of the day, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is bold and disturbing cinema at its finest; it is cold and clinical, but it also has a brilliant comedic streak that runs right through its centre. Even though it is definitely not for everyone, I can't recommend this film enough, and I truly hope that Colin Farrell and Yorgos Lanthimos get more chances to work together because they suit each other perfectly.
7. GET OUT
One of the surprises of the year was Jordan Peele's horror film “Get Out”. Unlike most American's, I had no idea who Jordan Peele was before seeing this film, so the fact that his pedigree came from comedy and the idea of him making a straight horror film didn't surprise me, due to my ignorance. The surprising aspect was that this was a smart horror film that was scary and also had something to say. It seems that combining social commentary with horror films was a thing of the past, but here Peele convincingly portrays the racial tension within America just as well as anything George Romero did back in the late sixties and beyond. It looks at the black experience when introduced into a white group, where in an attempt to not appear racist, white people talk to the black people about the most stereotypical things relating to the black community. Aside from the social commentary in the film, it is also a really great horror film and my favourite horror film of 2017. All of the performances are great and you really believe the relationship between Chris and Rose. There is no doubt they are in love and would do anything for one another even if it may be uncomfortable to do so. Also, Rose's family are all so lovely and come across as so real, complete with embarrassing Dad jokes. There is also the added hypnosis angle which creates the world of “the sunken”, a place where the subconscious goes when under hypnosis which gives “Get Out” a sense of mystery too. This is another film that is really hard to talk about without ruining but I will say that it is a horror film that builds perfectly in suspense and fear, right up to its very impressive finale. I also want to add that “Get Out” did an amazing job of concealing one of its twists, so that I never saw it coming at all (and I pride myself on being able to work things out quick). Another moment that I want to underline is one of the scenes with racial overtones which I can only describe as the “picking cotton” scene, towards the end. It is such a clever moment, like the film as a whole. “Get Out” is yet another success from the guys at Blumhouse, with this film likely to go down as a future horror classic. It is a fantastic achievement from writer/director Jordan Peele.
6. LADY BIRD
My favourite aspect of “Lady Bird” is that even though she is not in the film at all, you can feel writer/director Greta Gerwig's sensibilities all throughout it. You can picture all of it coming out of her, and Saoirse Ronan is the perfect surrogate for Gerwig's words but Ronan does it in such a way, that it is not like she is doing an impression of Gerwig (unlike all of those Woody Allen impressions in his films), she has created a fully rounded character out of Lady Bird and it just shines through. “Lady Bird” is a brilliant coming of age drama, that also dips its toes into the comedy pool at times, about a young seventeen year old girl trying to find her place in the world, working out what she wants to do with the rest of her life, trying to find love, and an inner peace with her hard to please mum. Gerwig directs with the lightest of touches, so even quite deep and full on moments, never feel overly heavy. Most importantly, everything just feels so real. This is a perfectly cast film with everyone superb in their roles, and they all have amazing chemistry together. I have already mentioned how great Ronan is in the title role, and she deserves all the accolades she is getting, but I have to single out Laurie Metcalf for her performance as Lady Bird's tough as nails mum. I actually watched “Lady Bird” before “I, Tonya” and initially thought Metcalf's Marion was quite a harsh mum, but she was totally eclipsed by Tonya Harding's mum (played by Allison Janney). The difference between the two is that you can tell that Marion genuinely loves “Lady Bird” but just finds it hard to express that love or to connect with her daughter. Metcalf is fantastic at portraying this too. There are moments, where you can see her think and want to say something different or nice to her, but it just doesn't come out, as it is not natural for her. If it wasn't for Janney's performance in “I, Tonya”, I believe that Metcalf would be a shoe in for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “Lady Bird”. The dad, on the other hand, played by Tracy Letts is very paternal and has a great and genuine relationship with his daughter. You can feel the love between the two of them, and the hurt he feels when later in the film he reveals that he knows his daughter is embarrassed about him and that is why she asks to be dropped near school not at school. It is a painful moment, and it crushes Lady Bird when she realises he knows, but the scene is so real. The film is full of these moments and even has one of the greatest scenes out of all of 2017, when one of her friends confesses to Lady Bird that he is terrified of telling his parents that he is gay. What makes the scene so impressive is that the two characters are fighting, and the confession of his fear just comes out as he breaks down, and without missing a beat, Ronan changes her character's emotions from anger to empathy and holds the boy tight. It is a stunning moment in a stunningly good film. “Lady Bird” deserves all the praise it is getting, as does its creator. I also appreciated that it ran a mere ninety minutes and did not finish on the typical Hollywood ending. The greatest success of this film is that it feels very real in all aspects.
Speaking of Greta Gerwig, she actually has a small role in my fifth placed film of the year, Pablo Larrain's “Jackie” which recounts the days after the assassination of JFK and how his wife Jackie made sure that he would never be forgotten by the American public. This was a film that I originally had no interest in seeing, and truthfully I am not exactly sure what made me change my mind (it came out in the second week of the year here in Australia, so it has been a while) but boy am I glad that I did, as I immediately fell in love with this film, and the way Pablo Larrain handled the story. The film is told in a non-linear fashion, as the lead up to and the assassination itself, is interspersed through an interview Jackie is having with a reporter, that takes place after John Kennedy's funeral. The questions the reporter asks her, leads into certain scenes of what just happened, but the film is not entirely concerned with the truth, but in presenting Jackie's “truth” and what she went through to create a legacy for John with the creation of the “Camelot” myth. Natalie Portman transforms herself completely as the former First Lady and does a compelling job of enlightening the audience just what Jackie was forced to go through, by having to mourn her husband's death totally in the public eye, create a fitting send off for him, whilst also caring about the safety and well being of her children. Larrain chose to shoot the film on glorious 16mm film, which gives the look a gritty appearance and helps in matching real footage of the funeral procession with the re-enactment that was shot for the film. The grainy film stock also lends itself to giving an older feel which helps with period detail, and giving Larrain a better chance at recreating famous moments that happened after the assassination. The single biggest surprise about the film though, was its amazing score by Mica Levi which was almost the total opposite of what I was expecting from a big “prestige” film such as “Jackie”. I was expecting a swooning operatic piece, but instead the film carries a very dark score, that could almost fit a horror film at times. It works so well and should've won the Oscar for best score last year. There were two moments that this film brought to life that I had never thought of before in regards to the JFK assassination; the first was when Jackie finally gets to take a shower, as she had spent the day in a dress covered in her husband's blood, with the same blood and brain matter mixed through her hair. It is a shocking scene as the water finally touches her hair, and we see all the blood run down her back. The other was just how brutal the moment after the assassination was with Jackie sitting next to the coffin of her dead husband, being a witness as they immediately swear in the next president of the United States, Lyndon B Johnson. I have no idea what thoughts would be running through a persons mind at such a time. “Jackie” is a stunningly good film, and one that I have already seen three times.
4. GOOD TIME
Robert Pattinson forever escapes his pretty boy “Twilight” persona, after this starring role in the ironically titled “Good Time” directed by the Safdie Brothers. Interestingly, like “Jackie” this was a film that I really wasn't sure that I wanted to see. The trailer did nothing for me at all, and after being bombarded by my wife's 24/7 obsession with Pattinson, I get a little weary of the man at times. In saying that, once it was slated to play at MIFF, I knew my wife wouldn't let me “not” see “Good Time” (although due to a small confusion, my wife and I saw separate screenings of the film). As can be seen by its place on this list, I am so glad I ended up seeing it, and while the title of the film may be ironic for the characters within it, it was perfectly apt for the audience watching because the film is a perfect description of a “good time”. There is something fun about watching dumb character's mess up and dig a deeper hole for themselves. The film is about two brothers, Connie and Nick (played by Pattinson and director Ben Safdie respectively), who attempt a bank robbery to get out of their debts and to move on with life together. While they appear to get away with the money, Nick, who is also mentally handicapped, ends up getting arrested and the rest of the film is about his brother Connie, doing everything to get him out of jail and escaping with the money. However every decision Connie makes is the wrong one, including a hilarious scene when he decides to break out his brother from his guarded hospital room. As each decision gets Connie in more and more trouble, it is just a weird kind of fun watching this man try and get out of the hole he has dug. As I mentioned above, Pattinson is outstanding in the lead, announcing to the world that he is a real actor. He has roughed up his appearance and speech and the sparkling vampire the world knows him as, is nowhere to be found. This is easily his best performance of his career so far and I was suitably impressed. One element of “Good Time” that I was not expecting was just how funny the film was. Again, I guess the comedy is of a dark nature, but there are a lot of laughs to be had in this film. Sean Price Williams neon soaked cinematography (shot on 35mm film) is also another highlight of the film; this is a seriously stylish looking film, and the film has a perfect 80's throwback synth score by Daniel Lopatin. The visuals and music combined give you a real adrenaline pumping feel while watching this awesome film that everyone should check out. Oh and if you are wondering what my wife thought of “Good Time”, she didn't like it (but still demanded that the blu ray go to her for her Robert Pattinson collection).
3. A GHOST STORY
This was a movie that I knew I wanted to see right from the first image and trailer I saw from it, and it was also a movie that I knew was for me and that I would love every second of it. After making “Pete's Dragon” for Disney, director David Lowery re-teamed with his stars from “Ain't These Bodies Saints” to create a little film in secret that turned out to be “A Ghost Story”. This is a truly stunning and original film as it explores the themes of loss, legacy, existence and the enormity of time all through the eyes of a ghost, which has been visualised in the guise of a white sheet with two holes cut out of it for eyes. Personally, it was the image of the ghost, that was when I knew I was going to love this film. For an artist to be brave enough to use the children's image of what a ghost looks like, and to make the audience except it and feel for it, well that is a hell of an achievement. For me, it did all of this and more. I do not know if I can explain just how perfect the ghost is to me; the way the fabric hangs, the heaviness when it moves, the way it creates a kind of face; it is all so brilliant. The plot of the film is very simple as it is about a married couple (called C and M in the credits) played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, living in a house that they are contemplating moving out of. Before any decision can be made, C dies in a car accident and then as a ghost appears trapped in the house he once called home to witness, without being able to interact with, his wife as she mourns his death and attempts to move on. When she finally does leave the house, he finds himself still stuck there, waiting, for something before he himself can move on, as more families pass through the house over an extended time period. It is hauntingly beautiful, and the film almost plays like a visual poem. There is very little dialogue throughout the film, save for an extended monologue half way through that lays out the themes of the film. Since the film is about time, scenes have to last longer than usual in an attempt to feel that time, and if you have read anything about this film, no doubt you have heard about the “pie scene”. In the scene, Mara's character, while in a state of mourning, slumps onto the kitchen floor and eats a whole pie, all by herself, and we get to watch every second of it. But the point of the scene is that we are not the only ones to watch, as the ghost stands there watching his loved one in pain and not being able to do a thing to help her. This is one scene we witness, but imagine if your existence was never ending days of this; just observing. It is a powerfully melancholic scene. Visually, the film is also something special with “A Ghost Story” being shot in the square 1:33 ratio and it all just looks magnificent. Again, I understand that this is another film that is not for everyone, but for mine, this was a hell of a cinematic ride that I can not wait to take again.
2. A MAN OF INTEGRITY
While it is not unusual to find an Iranian film at or near the top of one of my lists, what is unusual is to find one that has been directed by Mohammad Rasoulof. While I have always thought his previous films were alright, none of them ever blew me away like the films of Jafar Panahi, Asghar Farhadi and Abbas Kiarostami have. In fact I was starting to believe that Rasoulof was a director who I just did not connect with. That all changed with his latest film, the corruption thriller, “A Man of Integrity”. Not only is it my favourite film by Rasoulof, it was also the best film that I saw at this year's MIFF. It is a look at how a good man is essentially doomed in a world as corrupt as Iran, and that if you are not willing to pay are bribe, you are unlikely to get anywhere. Reza just wants to live life as an honest man, working on his goldfish farm as a means of income. However when a powerful organisation attempts to force Reza and his family off of his farm for their own financial gain, he realises that it may not be worth the hassle and leaving would be better. However, he still refuses to pay for bribes to make life better for himself and when his water supply to his fish is poisoned, he finally breaks and decides to take them on at their own gain, but by doing so, will he end up losing who he really is? It is interesting to note, that the film that I kept on thinking about while watching “A Man of Integrity” was actually Sam Peckinpah's “Straw Dogs”. While there are not a huge amount of connections, I saw similarities in the character of Reza and that of Dustin Hoffman's character in “Straw Dogs”. Both are good, placid men who are coerced into breaking their own personal beliefs to protect their family and home. At the end of the day, “A Man of Integrity” is quite a depressing film as Reza is forced to go to some incredibly dark lengths, and in the process ends up hating himself. But the greatest kick to Reza comes right at the end of the film when he finds out that he had been manipulated by someone else the entire time. Hopefully I have made that vague enough to not ruin the brilliance of the end. Until the final week of 2017, I was pretty sure that “A Man of Integrity” was going to be my favourite film of the year, but it was unluckily pipped at the post.
1. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
So here we are, we are finally at my favourite film of 2017, and it was one of the very last films that I saw in the year. My favourite film of 2017 was none other than Martin McDonagh's “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, which in my eyes was almost the perfect film. It has a fantastic, multi-layered script by McDonagh himself, has been cast to perfection with everyone giving their absolute best, it is superbly paced (this thing just flies by) and the story is one that has so many surprises in it that you never know where it is going to go next. There is no way that I would've guessed that from the way the film began, it would end where it did. Oh, did I happen to mention that “Three Billboards....” also has the most perfect ending too, and that it is hilarious? This is Martin McDonagh's third film and also his very best. He started out super strong with his debut film “In Bruges”, but had the traditional sophomore slump with his second, “Seven Psychopaths”. In fairness, “Seven Psychopaths” is not bad, its just nothing more than a diversion, and now being sandwiched between “In Bruges” and this new film, it is always destined now to be known as the failure. Anyway, the story of “Three Billboards....” is about Mildred, whose teenage daughter was brutally raped, murdered and then set on fire seven months earlier. Frustrated that the local police force have found no leads in that time, she hires three billboards and writes a message on them in very large print, in an attempt to light a fire under the police force. They predictably react to the billboards in the negative and look to squash Mildred's attempt to keep her daughter's case alive, and from that point on, the madness begins. Like a lot of films on this list, “Three Billboards....” goes to some very dark places, it is filled with the most filthy language and yet, you cannot help but fall in love with both the movie, and its (incredibly) flawed characters. The strongest aspect of the film is that the world of “Three Billboards....” has been painted in shades of grey. There are no such thing as good guys and bad guys here. All of the characters have the ability to do both good and bad, and those who you may initially hate for their horrible behaviour, you will end up loving for something good they do later. Even our “hero” Mildred does some truly despicable things. As I mentioned at the start, every single actor in this ensemble is at their career best but both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are off the charts!! They are so damned good and hilarious with every line reading. McDormand is harsh, sharp and always on point, where as Rockwell plays his dumb guy as bumbling, a bit slow off the hook and very aggressive. Oh, and the two of them bounce off of each other perfectly. Another couple of actors I want to mention is Woody Harrelson, who gives the sweetest performance of the film and is just fabulous (he is also key to the film's most shocking scene), and the brief two scene cameo from Australian Samara Weaving who steals the scenes she is in. She is so funny, playing a dumb bimbo, but it is her character that lays down what the whole movie is about which is “anger begets more anger”. She also has another very funny line when she talks about the book she was reading on polio (“Wait, which is the one with horses?”. Very funny stuff!!!). Oh, and my least favourite actor of now, Caleb Landry Jones, is also in this and even he impresses. At the end of the day, this film is chock full of stuff it wants to say, but the main point is that you will never move on from pain and tragedy in your life, if you cannot let go of the anger, and if you let your anger control your life, you are bound to lead a life of continued pain. I was truly not expecting this film to be as good as it was, and although I didn't see it until the last week, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was my favourite film of 2017.
Well there you have it, that was my round-up of the year that was 2017; hopefully you got some enjoyment out of it. Now before I finish, lets have a brief look at the upcoming year and my most anticipated films of 2018.